Seth Rogen on Monday denied apologizing for his comments about Israel, saying the leader of the Jewish Agency misrepresented his position, while acknowledging that he should not have spoken jokingly on such a “sensitive and nuanced” issue.
“I did not apologize for what I said. I offered clarity. And I think [Isaac Herzog] is misrepresenting our conversation,” Rogen told Haaretz in a lengthy interview, a day after the Jewish Agency said a Zoom conversation was held over the weekend between Rogen and its chairman, Isaac Herzog, during which Rogen apologized.
But the Jewish actor said his comments about Israel were made in jest and that he does not want Jews to believe he thinks the Jewish state should not exist. He also affirmed that he found his childhood education about the country, which he received through Jewish schools and camps, to be problematic.
Rogen, 38, who grew up attending Jewish schools and Jewish camp in Vancouver, Canada, drew outrage when he told Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast on July 27 that he was “fed a huge amount of lies about Israel” and questioned why the state should exist. Maron, who often mentions his Jewishness in his standup comedy material, concurred.
On Monday, in his interview with Haaretz, Rogen said he felt their discussion on Israel was “a very common conversation,” but should have been given appropriate context and been addressed less flippantly.
“I think that it’s a tricky conversation to have in jest,” he said. “And that’s something that perhaps I now look at and say, ‘Oh, now that we joked about that, perhaps we could clarify some things so people don’t run around thinking that I think Israel shouldn’t exist anymore.’ And I’m sensitive to Jewish people being hurt, as a Jewish person. And I’m sensitive to Jewish people thinking I’m not a proud Jewish person, which I am.”
He added: “And I am sensitive to Jews thinking that I don’t think Israel should not exist, and that there are a lot of Jewish people who are alive who wouldn’t be without Israel. And my parents met in Israel; I’ve been to Israel several times.”
“When you’re having a conversation about something so sensitive and nuanced, it’s not just what we said – well it’s partially what we said – but [it’s] also what we didn’t say. When you’re having even a humorous conversation about something so nuanced, leaving things out or omitting things can become just as bad as the things you do say,” he said.
The actor also said his remarks in the podcast were taken out of context.
“Things I said were taken and chopped up, and the context literally removed from it, and if I read some of those things out of context I would also probably be upset about it,” he said.
Rogen also doubled down on his claim that his childhood education did not sufficiently explain the founding of the Jewish state and the history of the Palestinians.
“And again, all I am attacking there is the education I was given about it. And I talked to my parents about it actually just yesterday and I was like, ‘Do you feel that what we were given … was a complete story?’ And they said ‘No. Looking back, at the time, you were given a less complex view of the situation than maybe you could have been given.
“I’d say personally, holistically, I was just not given a full picture of the situation. And I understand it’s a wildly complex picture to give a child, and perhaps that’s why it was not given to me,” he said.
The Jewish actor addressed rising anti-Semitism, including recent anti-Jewish comments by prominent celebrities.
“I try to call out anti-Semitism where I see it,” he said. “I know for a fact that anti-Semitic people also do thrive in Hollywood – so the notion that Jews control the careers of everyone in Hollywood is wildly inaccurate. Mel Gibson has made several movies over the last several years. He won an Academy Award for one of them, I think, in the wake of making horribly antisemitic comments.”
He also branded US President Donald Trump a “white supremacist” in the interview.
In his original remarks, Rogen said of Israel: “To me, it just seems an antiquated thought process. If it is for religious reasons, I don’t agree with it, because I think religion is silly. If it is for truly the preservation of Jewish people, it makes no sense, because again, you don’t keep something you’re trying to preserve all in one place — especially when that place is proven to be pretty volatile, you know? ‘I’m trying to keep all these things safe, I’m gonna put them in my blender and hope that that’s the best place… that’ll do it.'”
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” he continued. “And I also think that, as a Jewish person, I was fed a huge amount of lies about Israel my entire life! They never tell you that — oh by the way, there were people there. They make it seem like it was just like sitting there, like the fucking door’s open!…They forget to include the fact to every young Jewish person.”
Rogen was on Maron’s podcast to discuss his upcoming film “An American Pickle,” about a Jewish immigrant who falls into a vat of pickles in New York in 1919 and wakes up 100 years later.
His comments drew an outcry from Israel advocates, prompting the Jewish Agency to reach out to his parents.
According to the Jewish Agency, it sent a letter that reached Rogen’s parents, who live in Vancouver, having met in Israel while volunteering at a kibbutz in the 1970s. Rogen then called the Jewish Agency and asked to speak with Herzog, but insisted that the conversation not be recorded, according to a Hebrew-language statement sent to The Times of Israel.
In a Facebook post, Herzog said in English that he was “glad to hold a frank and open conversation” with Rogen. Herzog also tweeted about the conversation, but later deleted both an English-language and a Hebrew-language tweet that showed a screenshot of the Zoom call.
The photo was still circulating online.
אשמור על סת רוגן מאוחדת pic.twitter.com/8WS0wcfuHJ
— Adi Messika (@adimessika) August 2, 2020
“At the start, Seth was kind enough to make clear to me that what was missing in the published interview was what he did not say: How important Israel is to him. And that, of course, Israel must exist,” Herzog wrote.
He said he had told Rogen that “many Israelis and Jews around the world were personally hurt by his statement, which implies the denial of Israel’s right to exist.”
“Rogen told me that this is not at all what he meant and explained his words were meant as a joke, taken from a critical, humorous exchange with a fellow Jewish comedian,” Herzog wrote. “He was misunderstood and apologized for that and I accepted his explanation.”
“Seth and I had a lengthy and very open conversation, at the end of which I invited him to come visit Israel, tour around the country and get to know the fascinating Israeli mosaic,” he concluded.
However, when approached about the conversation, Rogen told Israeli-American journalist Mairav Zonszein that she should “read what I actually said about all this and not these secondhand telling.” He also said his “mom made me call” Herzog.
Zonszein tweeted a screenshot of his remarks.
— Mairav Zonszein מרב זונשיין (@MairavZ) August 2, 2020
That tweet was liked by Rogen.
The Jewish Agency has not provided an English transcript of the Rogen-Herzog conversation and declined to comment on Rogen’s remarks to Zonszein.
JTA contributed to this report